GENERAL PRESENTATION This year our class has worked on the Elizabethan period and we have found Queen Elizabeth a quite fascinating woman. She was one who knew what it meant to be a woman in a man’s profession! Even if she was the Queen of England she had to fight and to speak out to be accepted in a world mainly shaped around men’s will. She needed all the strenght of her Tudor and Boleyn blood to survive. The majority of the women of her time, even the ones belonging to the higher social classes, were supposed to be obedient to their fathers, brothers, husbands, they didn’t have any freedom of speech and decision, they couldn’t go to school. The role of a woman was to stay at home and to take care of the family. Elizabeth was able to rule a country that was to become one of the first powers in Europe. She brought toleration and religious peace, she expanded England abroad and increased its economy. She patronized the arts: poetry, music, literature, the theatre. She tried to keep her country out of war and when she was involved in a war against Spain she won. And...of course she never married. We wondered if this was the main reason why she was so successful! In our presentation we give a short outlook on he situation of women during the Elizabethan period and we add some of the most important steps in women’s emancipation in England during the centuries.
“I may not be a lion, but I am a lion’s cub, and I have a lion’s heart.”
FULL NAME: Elizabeth Tudor BORN: Greenwich Palace Sunday (around 3pm) 7 September 1533 PARENTS: Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (Executed 19 May 1536) BECAME QUEEN: Thursday, 17 th November 1558, aged 25 CROWNED: Westminster Abbey Sunday, 15 January 1559 HEIGHT: Estimated between 5ft 3in - 5ft 5in EYES: Brown HAIR: A curly golden red. NATIONALITY: English RELIGION: Protestant MARITAL STATUS: Never married or had children DIED: Richmond Palace on Lady Day, Thursday, 24 March 1603, aged 69 REIGNED: 44 years, 4 months BURIED: Westminster Abbey, London REMEMBERED AS: The Virgin Queen, Good Queen Bess
Even though there was an unmarried woman on the throne in Elizabethan England, the roles of women in society were very limited. The Elizabethans had very clear expectations of men and women, and in general men were expected to be the breadwinners and women to be housewives and mothers. On average, a woman gave birth to a child every two years, but as a lot of babies and children died from sickness, families were not always large. Childbearing was considered a great honour to women, as children were seen as blessings from God, and Tudor women took great pride in being mothers. The condition of women during the Elizabethan period
Elizabethan society was patriarchal, meaning that men were considered to be the leaders and women their inferiors. Women were regarded as "the weaker sex", not just in terms of physical strength, but emotionally too. It was believed that women always needed someone to look after them. If they were married, their husband was expected to look after them. If they were single, then their father, brother or another male relative was expected to take care of them.
Women were not allowed to go to school or to university, but they could be educated at home by private tutors. Elizabeth was tutored by the famous Elizabethan scholar Roger Ascham. Key texts in this debate are to be found in the Fortnightly Review for 1874, by Henry Maudsley and Elizabeth Garret Anderson (the first woman doctor), under the title 'Sex in Mind and Education'.
Improvements in Education Campaigns to improve women's education continued throughout the centuries, strengthened by the imbalance of numbers between men and women (there were roughly half a million more women than men). Queen's and Bedford Colleges at London University offered women education at the end of the 1840s, colleges for women at Oxford and Cambridge began in the 1860s and 1870s, while the Girls' Public Day School Trust, Cheltenham's Ladies College and other new institutions sought to improve the intellectual training offered to girls in their teens. Resistance to these developments came especially from the medical profession, who argued that the physical demands of menstruation and the intellectual demands of study were incompatible, and that educated women would become necessarily the mothers of a 'puny, enfeebled, and sickly race'. During the Elizabethan period women were not allowed to enter the professions i.e law, medicine, politics, but they could work in domestic service as cooks, maids etc, and a female painter, Levina Teerlinc, was employed by Henry VIII and later by Mary and Elizabeth respectively. Women were also allowed to write works of literature, providing the subject was suitable for women: mainly translations or religious works. Women were not allowed to act on the public stage or write for the public stage. Acting was considered dishonourable for women and women did not appear on the stage in England until the seventeenth century. In Shakespeare's plays, the roles of women were often played by young boys. From the mid Nineteenth century most professions were opened to women.
Women, regardless of social position, were not allowed to vote (however, only men of a certain social position were allowed to vote). Neither could women inherit their father's titles. All titles would pass from father to son or brother to brother, depending on the circumstances. The only exception was, of course, the crown. The crown could pass to a daughter, and that daughter would be invested with all the power and Majesty of any king. This allowed Mary, and then Elizabeth, to reign. In some cases women could not inherit estates, but women could be heiresses to property, and some women, especially if they were the only child of a great noble man, could be very affluent heiresses indeed. Robert Dudley's first wife, Amy Robsart, was Sir John Robsart's only child, and inherited two estates he owned in Norfolk. It was not always clear what happened to these estates when the woman married i.e. whether the estates became the property of her husband or not.
The term women's suffrage is a social, economic and political reform movement aimed at extending suffrage — the right to vote — to women. The suffrage movement was led by Suffragists; this was a term usually given to those who sought to create change constitutionally. The term Suffragettes is applied to those within the movement for suffrage that used militant actions and approaches in an attempt to gain female suffrage. The early suffrage movement advocated female suffrage although it was recognised that these rights would apply only to married women. The move for the abolition of all discrimination, for example, due to race or class, was seen to develop with the more radical and militant wings of this female movement. Women's suffrage did not become a political issue in the United Kingdom until 1832, when the 1832 Reform Act specifically disenfranchised women. From this point the suffrage movement campaigned for voting rights for women. The suffragette movement in the United Kingdom was particularly militant, with some of its members committing vandalism and assault. Some suffragettes firebombed churches (see Modern World History textbook), threw axes at Prime Minister Asquith, smashed windows and terrorised many Liberal MPs as well as other men. Some Liberal MPs who had supported women's suffrage moved away from the movement due to the violence. A number of activists were imprisoned and then force-fed when they went on hunger strikes. The First World War brought a halt to the public campaign. It is possible that women's war work, working in munitions factories and putting their lives at risk, contributed to women over the age of 30 getting the vote in 1918 (men could vote at 21). Women were given the vote on the same conditions as men in 1928.
The laws of inheritance meant that fathers were anxious to have a son, but that does not mean that daughters were unloved and unwanted. The attitude of Henry VIII to his daughters was unusual, and was probably the result of his obsession with providing the country with a male heir and subsequent ruler. Parents did love their daughters and saw them as precious gifts from God. Of all the children Thomas More had, his daughter Margaret was his favourite, and William Cecil was a devoted father to all his children, male and female. Queen Elizabeth would write letters of condolence on the death of daughters as well as on the death of sons.
Another important act was the Act of Property, that allowed women to keep their own property after marriage. In the Elizabethen period on marriage, the control of and income from a woman's real property, that is, property held in the form of freehold land, passed under the common law to her husband, though he could not dispose of it without her consent. Her personal property, that is, money from earnings or investments, and personal belongings such as jewellery, passed absolutely into his control, and she could part with them only with his consent; he could, for example, overrule any bequests she made of her personal property. To evade these provisions under the common law, it was necessary to agree a marriage settlement under equity law. The Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 (see below) denied the husband his right to the earnings of a wife he had deserted, and returned to a woman divorced or legally separated the property rights of a single woman.
Woman's property Act of 1870 allowed women to keep earnings or property acquired after marriage; a further Married Woman's Property Act in 1882 allowed women to retain what they owned at the time of marriage. The property laws before 1882 had further significant consequences, related to the fiction of the legal identity of husband and wife; a married woman could not sue or be sued -- if, for example, she felt herself to be libelled, her husband could sue and claim for damages, because he was the only injured party, but she could not. Correspondingly, he became liable for her debts and contracts, and for any breaches of the law committed by her before or during their marriage since it was held that she acted only under her husband's direction (it was this provision that made Dickens' Mr Bumble declare that the law is as an ass). Married women held the same legal status as criminals, minors and the insane. Post-1882 the possibility of success in the campaign for women's suffrage was greatly improved, since one powerful argument against it -- that a married woman was simply an extension of her husband, so that married men would in effect have two votes -- was now made less plausible.
A man was considered to be the head of a marriage, and he had the legal right to chastise his wife. However, it is important to understand what this "headship" meant. It did not mean, as if often supposed, that the husband was able to command his wife to do anything he pleased, in other words, be a petty tyrant. He was expected to take care of her, make sure she had everything she needed, and most importantly to love her and be a good father to any children they had. If a husband felt the need to chastise his wife, then he was not allowed to be cruel or inflict bodily harm. If he did abuse his wife, then he could be prosecuted or prevented from living with her. There was no divorce (as we know it) in Elizabethan times. Marriage generally lasted as long as the couple both lived. If a couple did want to separate, then they needed to obtain an annulment, which, if granted, meant that their marriage had never been lawful. Despite having been married six times, Henry VIII only regarded Jane Seymour and Katherine Parr as his legal wives.
It is probably fair to say that, despite the limitations, women had more freedom in the Elizabethan period than they had had previously and would have again for some time. The Renaissance brought with it a new way of thinking. It was thought men and women could do anything and be anything they wanted to be, that their capacity for knowledge was limitless. Thus, noble women, as well as men, were given an impressive education in the classics, mathematics, and all other academic subjects of the day. Elizabeth being on the throne also encouraged noble men to educate their daughters, as they did not want them to look dim in the presence of their very intelligent and highly educated queen.
Women who perhaps suffered most in this period were, ironically, those like the Queen who did not wish to marry. Tudor society did not have many avenues open to single women and, following the Reformation, those avenues were even less. Before, women were able to become nuns and look forward to a rewarding life in convents, perhaps be a Mother Superior one day. But with the Reformation, the convents were closed. Wealthy single women (heiresses of property) could look forward to being mistress of their estates and wield the power in the community this would bring, but for poor women, the only long-term "career" really open to them was domestic service. It was not surprising, therefore, that most women married. Marriage was seen as the desirable state for both men and women, and single women were sometimes looked upon with suspicion. It mainly single women who accused of being witches by their neighbours.
I have already joined myself in marriage to a husband, namely the kingdom of England. (Elizabeth to Parliament) Better beggar woman and single than Queen and married. It would please me best if, at the last, a marble stone shall record that this Queen having lived such and such a time, lived and died a virgin. (Elizabeth to Parliamentary Delegation)